Seeking to restore to local voters what San Diego City Councilman Mike Gotch called "an inherent right," the City Council on Monday approved a measure to permit write-in candidates to run in municipal primary elections.
In 1961, the council outlawed the write-in ballot in council elections. Proponents argue that the ban acts as a deterrent to frivolous candidacies and allows voters to winnow finalists from larger primary fields. Others regard the prohibition as an unconstitutional limit on voters' rights, and characterize write-ins as a safety valve that can prevent the election of unqualified or discredited candidates.
Noting that every major city in California allows write-in candidacies, Councilman Uvaldo Martinez began pushing for a repeal of the local ban earlier this year.
During Monday's debate, some council members said they favored allowing write-ins in general elections also. However, City Atty. John W. Witt said that allowing write-ins in general elections "involves additional considerations," and there is uncertainty whether such a proposal would require a public vote. Mayor Roger Hedgecock also has stressed that allowing write-ins in general elections would permit disgruntled primary losers to continue their candidacies, raising the possibility that the ultimate victor in the race could be elected with less than 50% of the vote.
Concurring with Councilman Bill Cleator, who said that "half a loaf is better than none," the council voted unanimously to authorize primary write-ins and to further study the possibility of expanding that right to general elections.
The council's additional deliberations could be rendered moot, however, by a suit now before the state Supreme Court that is aimed at declaring San Diego's ban on write-in ballots in municipal elections unconstitutional. If the court strikes down the local ban, write-ins presumably would be permissible in both municipal primaries and general elections.